Have you ever wondered how to get your teens to talk to you? As a mom of four teenagers who are worlds apart in personality, I can tell you that some are easier to talk to than other. But, over the years, I have learned a thing or two about communicating with this quirky alien species. Here are a few of my secrets:
1. Ask Questions
Asking questions is a great way to get anybody to talk, including teens. It proves you are interested in what is going on in their lives. A famous old Roman poet, Publilius Syrus once said:
We are interested in others when they are interested in us.
During their teen years, my kids may never be as interested in my life as I am in theirs because they think parents are annoying. I’m sure they secretly accept that I am awesome, but admitting that would make them uncool, so I will not push the issue.
Even if they roll their eyes and give me all sorts of attitude, which happens on a near-daily basis, I am going to continue to ask them loads of questions about everything under the sun. I want them to know that I care about them and what they are doing. And also I care about their favorite color and what they ate for lunch. (Crackers and Dr. Pepper, if you were wondering.)
If you are stumped about what to ask beyond the obvious “How was your day,” this list is a great place to start.
2. Timing is Everything
I am a morning person through and through. I prefer not to stay up late chatting, but that is the time some of my teenagers are most energized and talkative. If I try to engage them in a conversation early in morning, chances are, I will get short, curt answers in return. But if I catch them when they are alert and open, it makes a world of difference in what they are willing to share with me.
One of my daughters tells me everything (and I mean everything) on the way home from the gym at 6:00 am. There is something about a good workout followed by a 20-minute ride in the car that opens her mouth. (The car is the perfect place to talk because she cannot go anywhere!) My son, on the other hand, would prefer not to say much, but he is most likely to open up if I can get him one-on-one. That often happens late at night when most of the family is sleeping. The trick is figuring out what works best for your particular kids.
In my experience, the best conversations are the ones that happen spontaneously. If one of my kids comes to me with an important question when I am in the middle of something, I try to set everything aside and give them my attention. If I tell them to wait a few minutes, they may no longer be willing to talk.
Timing is everything!
3. Expect Mistakes
The teen years are a time of exploration and growth as kids prepare to enter adulthood. That process leads to many stupid decisions because teenage brains are not fully developed. (I can tell you from experience that this is no joke.)
So far, my teens have not made any major mistakes, for which I am grateful. But they have done plenty of ridiculous things that have led to countless teaching opportunities. I would be a wealthy woman if I had a nickel for every time I asked my kids, “What did you learn from this experience? Could you do anything differently to avoid this mess in the future?”
Over the years, I have learned to expect my dear offspring to do something outrageous at any moment. They are usually pretty obedient, but even good kids are capable of making highly unintelligent choices. (Like, for instance, driving with one’s head out the window while forgetting to watch the road. That may or may not have happened to a particular teenager I know in the very recent past.)
I would rather be mentally prepared for inevitable mistakes, so I can think rationally when (not if) they happen, which leads to my next point:
4. Don’t Freak Out!
I cannot emphasize this one enough. The fastest way to get a teenager to clam up is by losing your cool when they admit to doing something stupid. (See notes above.) Whether it is a relatively minor infraction or a major addiction, they need patience, love, and support more than ever. They need to hear their parents calmly say, “That may not have been the best choice, but we love you. We will figure this out together.”
Teenagers need to know they can trust their parents with their shortcomings – that they will withhold judgment and offer support, NO MATTER WHAT. They need to know that Mom and Dad will not lose their ever-living minds when they call from a party they should never have been at in the first place and ask for a ride home when things go south. (Or they probably won’t call, choosing to stay in a bad situation rather than deal with parental wrath.)
I am not saying that a misbehaving teen should not be punished for their poor choices. But there is a world of difference between calmly talking through consequences and losing your cool (Insert yelling, screaming, and exclamations of, “How you could you do something like this?!? or “You have disgraced our family!” or “You are grounded for the rest of your life!”).
The first option provides a perfect teaching opportunity. The latter will quickly drive your teen and their problems underground, which is likely not what you want.
Teenagers are a different breed, but getting them to talk is not impossible. Start by asking good questions at the right time and staying calm in the face of stupid mistakes. Those strategies just might be enough to get your foot in the door.